The federal government is the nation’s largest employer and its largest energy consumer. The U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. President Biden wants the public sector to be an example for environmental sustainability. Due to the building and construction industries accounting for more than a third of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions, one of the biggest ways to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint is with real estate. Fortunately for the General Services Administration (GSA), they have a head start.
“Since 2013, GSA has successfully reduced its total inventory by 7 million rentable square feet (RSF), reducing its footprint from 378 million RSF to 371million RSF in 2020.” Stated by an agency spokesperson in an email to Federal News Network. “Over the last 15 years, GSA has made substantial progress improving our buildings’ energy efficiency and space utilization through investments in new and existing facilities, technologies, and operational best practice adoption.” Agencies must submit draft action plans to the new National Climate Task Force and the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer within the next three months. Those plans should describe steps agencies can take to make facilities more resilient to climate change impacts.
The environmental impact of federal real property, as well as government procurement power, are just some components in Biden’s wide-ranging Jan. 27 Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The EO proposes a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035, and clean and zero-emission vehicles for all government fleets, including the Postal Service. This is notable because 36% of federal energy consumption comes from more than 350,000 buildings, while about 60% comes from vehicles and equipment, according to the Energy Department’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). The EO directs the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to make sure contractors pay more attention to reducing carbon emissions.
“Action plans should, among other things, describe the agency’s climate vulnerabilities and describe the agency’s plan to use the power of procurement to increase the energy and water efficiency of United States government installations, buildings and facilities and ensure they are climate-ready. Agencies shall consider the feasibility of using the purchasing power of the federal government to drive innovation and shall seek to increase the federal government’s resilience against supply chain disruptions,” the EO reads. Whatever is left after operating expenses can go to construction, repairs or major renovations of federal buildings – the kinds of projects needed to improve energy efficiency and sustainability. Because the easier fixes, such as more environmentally friendly lighting, are largely done, he said.
GSA, in particular, has reduced its leased footprint by 10.4 million square feet since October 2014, the agency spokesperson said. During his time at PBS, Mathews said their strategy revolved around two things: Reducing total square footage and getting real estate at a better price. To do this, PBS prioritized leasing first and GSA’s overall portfolio second. “We went after leasing first, because when you lease, you have access to private capital through your lease. So, you leverage, with your annual lease payment, significant amounts of private capital to restructure your lease portfolio – the portfolio the federal government consumes in the private market,” he said. “As a result, we’re avoiding over $4 billion in lease costs that – because of the transactions we put in place when we were there, by reducing the size of that lease portfolio. Along with that smaller footprint is less energy consumption.”
Author: Patrina Philips